Swimming On the Ocean Floor

By Brian Montopoli

BOSTON — This may be a convention for the Democrats and a convention for the media, but it is also, I realized yesterday, a convention for people who like to make funny hats. There are allegedly funny hats everywhere: Statue of Liberty hats, Dr. Seuss hats, donkey hats, cheese head hats, pink cowboy hats covered in buttons. The hats were designed to get the wearer attention, and it worked: the press gravitated towards the quirkily hatted delegates, crowding around to ask them how excited they were. Invariably, the answer was very. Reporters smiled condescendingly and made hat-related notes. In a 1988 article in CJR, Philip Weiss captured the way the press at a convention treats the delegates: like “gaily dressed flatlanders who were thrilled when they were quoted about their jogging pants in USA Today.”

I went down to the convention floor yesterday afternoon, with the intention of shadowing Wonkette!’s Ana Marie Cox while she reported for MTV. When I reached the floor, around 4:30, a crowd was already building for the evening festivities, which would culminate in a speech by John Edwards. Delegates were everywhere, as were members of the press, trolling for color stories.

As a succession of relatively obscure speakers took the stage — Joe Hoeffel, Frank Lautenberg, Ike Skelton — to express support for Kerry, I wandered the floor, looking for Cox and her MTV contingent. It’s hard to express just how much of a concentrated media environment a convention floor is: There are photographers everywhere, shooting everything, and I kept ducking out of shots, until I realized it was futile. An irritated television producer shooed me away from her on-air personality, who was holding a microphone and speaking, though I couldn’t figure out where the camera was. I watched two female African-American delegates dancing to no music in front of a camera, and then turned my head left and saw my face on a CNN screen, just above the left shoulder of Bob Novak, who was, at the moment, filming “Crossfire.”

I wandered passed the ubiquitous Jerry Springer, who I’d already seen on the streets of Boston and up in the area where bloggers work; when he’d come around, one of his staffers had plaintively asked, “Does anyone want to blog about Jerry!” I passed Tucker Carlson and Jesse Jackson, the latter of whom was posing for pictures with the weariness of a lifetime politician. He smiled for the camera with his arm around someone he hadn’t looked at, and then immediately his face went blank as he turned and waited to be grabbed by someone else. In a crowded area, I passed Florida Sen. Bob Graham, with whom I made eye contact; he could tell I recognized him, and he gave me a little nod of recognition, after which I nodded back, like two friends passing in a crowded bar.

By now I’d made a couple circles around the floor, fruitlessly searching for Cox, and I realized I’d passed the same NBC correspondent, perched on a platform, a few times. He was standing on a mark silently, waiting for a cue, just as he had been when I passed 20 minutes ago; his face was polished white with makeup, and though the lights were beating down on him, he wasn’t sweating.

I fought through a sea of people in yellow “Firefighters for Kerry” t-shirts, and up to a woman who was signing the convention for the deaf. A speaker had just finished, and she took off her headset. She looked exhausted. There were a lot of security people trying to keep traffic moving, but I figured they’d leave me alone if they saw me writing in my notebook; I began writing “I am just writing something in my notebook so they don’t make me move,” over and over, so I could look around from a set spot. I watched a blow-dried Fox News correspondent, a blonde woman with lips painted bright red, bathed in fluorescent light, filing her report. Cox was still nowhere to be found, and people had begun pushing me. I looked down at my notebook, which had become nearly unreadable, and decided to retreat upstairs.

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.